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Cope With Death While You Celebrate Holidays
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Janice Guice, like many other people, joins family members to devour turkey and dressing, opens red and green-packaged Christmas presents with her grandchildren and counts down the seconds until the New Year.
However, behind smile-plastered faces and hectic schedules, Guice, and others who have lost loved ones, celebrate the holidays in sadness and with difficulty. Holiday sights, sounds and smells spark memories of family and friends who have passed away, and survivors are left to cope.
After Guice gave birth to premature identical twin daughters, Cathy and Carol, on May 7, 1967, she learned they both suffered from heart-related problems.
While Cathy's heart murmur had little effect on her well- being, Carol's birth defect was fatal unless corrected. At 15- months-old, Carol was scheduled for surgery to fix the narrow valve that caused her heart to pump blood harder.
Guice and her husband bought strollers and took the twins to the park, an ice cream shop and a drive-in movie to try to make the most of their time with Carol before she was admitted into the hospital. However, the brown-haired, brown-eyed little girl, who had taken her first steps the day before surgery, died two days later.
"Her little heart failed the day after surgery. We were so shocked, though we knew the risks,"
Guice said. "When we went into a department store to look for a pretty dress for our 15-month-old to be buried in, I remember feeling sick all over. I didn't know if I could do it or not. Yet, we had Cathy with us, and we had to continue to meet her needs."
Guice said her faith in God, care and concern shown by others, her care for others and time helped her cope.
"I think Cathy helped us keep our courage and faith, even though every time we looked at her, we saw Carol, too. It was not easy," Guice said.
Guice and her husband, who are originally from Oktibbeha County and live there now, received comfort from the minister who had baptized Guice and performed their marriage ceremony.
"It's not ours to ask why, but from these experiences in life we need to learn to serve God better," the minister had told the young couple.
While Guice found her calling was to bake cookies during the holidays to give to others, she recommended doing anything to press on with the future.
"Look beyond yourself and see others in need. You can't be everything for everybody, but you can do something. Do what you feel in your heart to help," Guice said. "Holidays are usually difficult to get through. If you can make yourself concentrate on other people's needs there are many right in your home town and stay busy doing things for others, you are less likely to dwell on the grief in your life."
Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, also recommended serving others to help cope.
"Holidays can be challenging, particularly during the first few years. In addition to fond remembrances, people may feel depressed or encounter waves of terrible loneliness," Davis said. "In giving to others, we give to ourselves and thus promote our own healing and well-being."
Instead of expecting the worst during holidays, plan which traditions to keep and think of new traditions to start. Davis said to think of activities that will be helpful in coping.
For example, Connie Williams of Pearl River County, who lost her father, grandmother and aunt within one year of each other, placed pictures around of her lost loved ones so her family could look at them and remember times with them.
"We talked openly about them. We didn't try to hide our pain from each other. We shared that pain and through our sharing got through what could have been a very painful day. Instead, it was almost as if it were a celebration of their lives and the joy they had given each and everyone of us," Williams said.
Davis said to make holidays special for children and attend to their personal and emotional needs.
"The surest way to get through grief is to feel it, not deny it. Listen to children and let them know how you feel. Let them see your tears. Hold them, reassure them and express your love," Davis said.
While people in bereavement will usually benefit from taking part in holiday activities, they should choose what is best for them to do.
"Because of your grief, your energy level is likely to be lower than normal. So pace yourself accordingly, and take advantage of opportunities for a little extra rest. Also, respect your need to have time for yourself," Davis said.
Do not hesitate in asking for help with planning, cooking, shopping and entertaining during the holidays. Be around people who will encourage and comfort, accept both happy and sad emotions, and allow the bereaved to talk about his or her experience.
"Remember that the anticipation of the holiday is usually more stressful than the holiday itself," Davis said.
For grief counseling, community education programs, holiday programs or support groups for survivors, Davis recommended contacting the National Hospice Organization at (703) 243-5900.